12

I seem to find 4. Bd3 to be one of the best choices in Caro-Kann.

[FEN ""]

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Bd3

My reasoning:

  1. White's light bishop can only develop to Be2 or Bd3. Be2 seems passive.
  2. In Caro-Kann, Black gives up the center initially to attack it later (say by c6-c5 or other means), thus losing tempo. One of the reasons given is that Black gets the advantage of its light bishop being outside the pawn chain. By immediately challenging it, White seems to attack Black's advantage.
  3. At move 4, Black's most active piece is its light bishop. Immediate 4. Bd3 either forces exchange thus bringing Black to square one in development; or it gets Black to lose another tempo with Bf5-Bg6.
  4. At 4. Bf3, Black doesn't have the good option of Ne7-Nxf5, which becomes a possibility if White plays Bf3 later.

But I have never seen 4. Bd3 played in titled games.

Can the experts here help me qualitatively understand what is wrong with my reasoning?

9

This is a great example for explaining the concept of the bad bishop.

In the center, we see an example of a pawn chain. White has pawns on d4 and e5, and black c6, d5 and (soon) e6. These are pretty immobile (until either side plays some pawn break). White's pawns are on dark squares, black's on white squares.

As a result, black's white squared bishop is called a "bad bishop", because it is blocked by its own pawns that are themselves blocked. White's white squared bishop is similarly called a "good bishop" -- it isn't blocked by his own pawns, can help with pawn breaks at the right moment, et cetera.

Why is it even relevant to mention that this variation manages to bring black's white squared bishop outside of the chain? Because being "inside" or "outside" the pawn chain is only relevant for bad bishops. Black's f8 bishop doesn't care about such things. The French defense is a great defense except for things such as leaving its bad bishop on c8.

White also has a bad bishop, the black squared one on c1. But as white has more space (d4 and e5 vs d5 and e6) and the pawn chain is pointed in the direction the Bc1 moves it is less of a problem, from c1 it will continue to influence far-away squares such as g5. Black's bishop on c8 is just locked in. A way to deal with having less space is to exchange pieces so the lack of space isn't felt as much.

Note that outside the pawn chain, it's still a bad bishop -- there are only a few squares the bishop can safely go to from f5, there is a danger that it will be attacked and chased by pawns. But at least it has more influence there than on c8.

So what would be even better for black's bishop than to merely be outside of the blocked chain? Why, to be exchanged for white's good bishop, of course. Without any further concessions, even.

After 4.Bd3 Bxd3 5.Qxd3 e6, black's opening is a complete success. No bad bishop, white no good bishop, less space but already a piece exchanged. Black has no problems whatsoever.

All that said, chess is an equal game anyway. If white could get even a tiny concession out of black, this might still be a useful idea. 4.h4 is a theoretical line (white threatens to chase the bishop with g4, f3, h5) and then if 4...h5, 5.Bd3 is a main move (the other is 5.c4). The difference with what has gone before is that g5 has now become a nice square for white's own bad bishop, and that is enough of a difference.

[FEN ""]

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4 h5 5.Bd3 Bxd3 6.Qxd3 e6 7.Bg5 Qb6 8.Nd2

Is an exciting line that scores well for white.

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12

The line usually quoted is 4.Bd3 Bxd3 5.Qxd3 Qa5+ 6. Bd2 Qa6! If White now exchanges Queens or allows the Queens to be exchanged he already has a poor endgame structure with a bad dark-square Bishop. Otherwise he will have difficulty Castling. Certainly White is not lost, but he has given away his first-move advantage.

[FEN ""]

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Bd3 Bxd3 5. Qxd3 Qa5+ 6. Bd2 Qa6!
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10

But I have never seen 4. Bd3 played in titled games.

The reason could be that Black gets a superior version of the French Defense. In the French, Black blocks the natural diagonal of the c8-bishop and then struggles to solve this issue. They lose a lot of tempi to exchange the bad c8-bishop via b6, and Ba6. Here Black immediately trades the light-squared bishop and plays e6.


Note: Black's light-squared bishop may become a target outside the pawn chain that White can exploit instead of exchanging the bishop.

  • While this isn't a big problem most of the time, it gives white a target on the Kingside to accelerate a pawn storm in some instances.
  • More problematic could be that White may target Black's light-squared bishop by Nh4 or Nd4.

Two examples from GM Shirov pratice, the great specialist of Be2 in the Caro-Kann advance variation. I recommend studying his games.

 [FEN ""]
 [title "Shirov, Alexei (2685) vs. Ehlvest, Jaan (2524), Vladimir Petrov Mem 2016"]

 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 (4.Bd3 Bxd3! 5.Qd3 e6) e6 5.Be2 Ne7 6.O-O Nd7 7.Nh4 Be4 8.Nd2 c5 9.Nxe4 dxe4 10.g3 Rc8 11.c3 cxd4 12.Qxd4 Nc5 13.Bg5 Qc7 14.Bb5+ Nc6 15.Rad1 h6 16.Bxc6+ bxc6 17.Be3 Be7 18.b4 Na4 19.Rc1 Bxh4 20.gxh4 c5 21.Qxe4 O-O 22.b5 c4 23.Kh1 f5 24.exf6 Rxf6 25.Rg1 Nc5 26.Qxc4 Qb7+ 27.Rg2 Ne4 28.Qd4 e5 29.Qxa7 1-0 

 [FEN ""]
 [title "Shirov, Alexei 2630) -  Moehn, Hans (2368), Bundesliga 2017-18"]

 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 c5 6.Be3 cxd4 7.Nxd4 Ne7 8.O-O Nbc6 9.Bb5 a6 10.Bxc6+ Nxc6 11.Nxf5 exf5 12.c3 Be7 13.Nd2 O-O 14.Nf3 Qd7 15.Bb6 Qe6 16.Re1 Bd8 17.Bc5 Re8 18.Qb3 Be7 19.Bb6 Bd8 20.Bxd8 Rexd8 21.Rad1 h6 22.h4 Rd7 23.Qa4 Rad8 24.h5 Kh7 25.Qf4 Rc8 26.Rd3 Rcd8 27.a4 Kg8 28.a5 Kh7 29.Nd4 Nxd4 30.cxd4 Rc8 31.Rb3 Rc6 32.Rc1 f6 33.Re1 Rf7 34.Rbe3 fxe5 35.Rxe5 Qd7 36.Qf3 Rd6 37.Re8 Qc6 38.Qg3 Qd7 39.Ra8 Re7 40.Rc1 Rc6 41.Rxc6 Qxc6 42.Rd8 Re4 43.Kh2 Qf6 44.Rxd5 Rh4+ 45.Kg1 Rxh5 46.Rd6 f4 47.Qd3+ Qf5 48.Qxf5+ Rxf5 49.d5 Rf7 50.Kh2 Rc7 51.b4 Rc2 52.f3 Rd2 53.Rd7 Rd4 54.Rxb7 Rxd5 55.Rb6 Rd4 56.Kh3 g5 57.Kg4 Rd2 58.Kh5 Rxg2 59.Rxh6+ Kg7 60.Rxa6 Rg3 61.Rg6+ Kf7 62.Rxg5 Kf6 63.Rb5 Rxf3 64.Kg4 Rf1 65.a6 f3 66.Ra5 1-0
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